Saturday, February 02, 2008

Making a Mesh - Social Computing in Business

After viewing Robin Chase's video on how wireless mesh networks could help reduce global warming, I was struck by how the characteristics of mesh networks are related to human interaction improvements in the business world.

What is a Mesh Network or Meshwork?

Meshworks are highly distributed networks of devices which connect to each other without prior infrastructure. Let's apply some of the characteristics of mesh networks to our innovation design for human networks in the business context.

Characteristics of mesh networks include the following:

Many possible interconnections.
Any node can connect to any other node. Connections are dynamic and temporary.
  • People have many dynamic and temporary interactions with a variety of others, both within and outside of the organization. By increasing presence awareness, through capabilities, such as instant messaging and self-publishing, it is possible to dramatically improve the frequency and range of interactions.

Nodes have purpose and intelligence.
Nodes are able to make decisions in near real time. Nodes handle the routing for each other.
  • Recognizing that people are dynamic knowledge repositories allows us to design collaboration contexts that encourage contribution by everyone in the network. Not only do people regularly route a variety of information, they also have the propensity to add substantial value to the content they transfer.

Self healing.
Nodes are able to self-discover alternate paths for routing information to other nodes. if any node fails, another will take its place.
  • Word of mouth is a powerful, and efficient communication vehicle. By complementing this effect with knowledge "watering holes", promotional information and interest hubs, we create multiple opportunities for discovery and self-organization. In addition, allowing everyone to build expertise awareness on each participant, creates opportunities for access to the right person without predetermining the context. Traditionally, companies have either ignored or suppressed these ad-hoc channels, often seeing them as unreliable, undermining official communications. Instead we need to encourage, promote, and influence these channels to accelerate communication throughout the organization and beyond.

Nodes are free to communicate with any other node at any time, regardless of location, creating robust communication grids.
  • Leveraging open, highly visible collaboration and communication technologies such as Wikis, shared development environments, and visible interaction systems, creates virtual presence and improved access to all participants. Visibility automatically increases peer accountability and overall performance.

Latency and Scaling.
Open protocols and dynamic routing can create interference and delays as the number of nodes increases.
  • Efficiently capturing knowledge flow and interactions is essential for capturing the collective knowledge and experience across the network. State of the art content management systems, and semantic decision support provide the necessary infrastructure to create persistence of content, making large scale interaction viable.

Beyond the Mesh

There is a lot of buzz around the potential of large scale mesh networks, despite the challenges that still have to be solved. Similarly, we are already experiencing the potential of networks where people are the ultimate network nodes. Understanding these dynamics will help unleash new levels of innovation and value for businesses of all sizes.

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